By the late summer of 1970, rock festivals were busting out all over, and local government officials across the country found themselves playing defense against them. They passed ordinances to make mass gatherings difficult, and they sought court injunctions against those that planned to go forward anyhow. In July, the same promoters who had put on the Sound Storm Festival in Wisconsin during April planned another festival for Galena, Illinois, but when it was stopped by injunction there, they picked Fayette County, Iowa, as their alternate location, specifically the little town of Wadena, population 251. They bought a 220-acre farm from a local family on July 20, and announced the festival for the weekend of July 31 through August 2.
The immediate reaction from officials was familiar to observers of other festivals, such as the one that had been held near Iola, Wisconsin, in June. “I am against the festival and I think it is an underhanded deal,” one Fayette County supervisor said. “They ought to keep the whole damn thing in Chicago.” He added, “We’re going to do everything we can to get the festival stopped.” There was hand-wringing over the bad example an influx of hippies would set for local youth. In defense of the locals, officials of Chicago-based Sound Storm, Inc., had said nothing about a rock festival to the owners of the farm they bought. All they said was something about building a resort, so the residents’ anger about being blindsided was legitimate. Iowa Governor Robert Ray said that local concerns were justified.
Reaction to the reaction, from the promoters, was also familiar: “Some fine citizens still don’t believe that our culture can get it together for a few days in an air of peace and mutual responsibility,” a press release from Sound Storm, Inc., said. “We’ve tried to rid ourselves of the shortcomings of previous music festivals in the Midwest.” They had arranged for fencing, medical care, parking, food, and security at the site, and promised to issue every attendee a garbage bag to carry out what they’d brought in.
Promoters also announced their list of prospective performers, which featured a mix of superstars and lesser-known acts, as well as local and regional bands. Among those mentioned in news coverage leading up to the event: the Who, the Everly Brothers, Little Richard, REO Speedwagon, Poco, Tim Hardin, Buffy Ste. Marie, the Guess Who, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Rotary Connection, the Chambers Brothers, Mason Proffit, Ian and Sylvia, the Youngbloods, and Oz.
After the jump: Both sides bring on the lawyers.